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Ten Points of Intersection: Commonalities between the Vineyard Movement and church multiplication worldwide

A few years ago I felt God speaking to me: “You’ve learned how to plant hundreds of churches. Now I want you to learn how to plant thousands.” The “you,” of course, is not me personally, but the Vineyard Movement. I sense God calling us to the next level of church multiplication and to a new journey of learning. 

And a few months prior to that word, and just weeks after finishing a PhD in Missiology, I was given a prophetic word from a trusted friend that challenged me to follow God “back to kindergarten.”  Those two words are foundational to my current journey.

So I embarked on a research journey of sorts. I visited multiple leaders of church planting movements spread across four continents and representing different denominations. Each of these leaders had overseen a multiplication movement of hundreds, if not thousands, of churches.

In learning from these movements, I identified ten consistent principles. These principles were present in each of the movements I studied regardless of culture, country, or denomination. And, most interestingly, I was struck by how consistent they are with our own Vineyard values and practices. In this article I’ll outline each of those principles, while also noting how they fit with our Vineyard ethos. 

1. Ministry flows from Kingdom perspective and focus

A Kingdom perspective matters. The Kingdom is bigger than the church, and the church is bigger than the Vineyard. Every single leader I spoke with had a commitment to the group/movement/denomination they were a part of, but an even greater commitment to the Kingdom as a whole. For example, Ralph Moore, of the Foursquare, has facilitated the planting of some 1700 churches, yet only 15% of them became Foursquare.

Luke 4:18-19 outlines the broad scope of Kingdom ministry, from healing to social justice: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (NIV). The scope of each church’s mission is bigger than the church itself. This is how Jesus describes the scope of his ministry, and it’s the mission he has left to us as well.

A focus on the Kingdom helps us move beyond a focus on ourselves and provides a broad definition of our mission. It is unsurprising that there was a winsome humility in each of the leaders I met. They were not focused on themselves but God’s kingdom.

2. Back to Jesus and His mission 

In all of the groups I interviewed I found an emphasis on the Bible as God’s Word (to which they respond in simple obedience. Wimber captured this in his controversial saying “the meat is in the street”) and, in particular, the use of the Gospels. As one leader said, “We really emphasize the Gospels, then we bring in the epistles when correctives are needed.” They saw Jesus as the model for ministry and mission, which coincides with the Vineyard emphasis on learning from the narrative portions of scripture. This perspective also echoes Wimber’s emphasis on having “no ministry but the ministry of Jesus.” The work of the church is to continue the ministry of Jesus.

3. Doing what the Father is doing

Each of the groups I talked with used different models for how to engage in discernment, but all of them placed a significant emphasis on trying to identify the places where God was already at work.

For example, the majority of them sought to identify “persons of peace” (e.g. Luke 10:5-7). In these church planting contexts when someone would run across “a person of peace,” this was seen as a sign that God was at work in that locale or within that segment of society. Rather than extracting the spiritually responsive person, they gave attention to them in their context, looking to see whom else God might be calling from within that network of people.  Each tried to discern what God was doing and join him in that.

4. Prayer with power is foundational

I found that each leader of a multiplication movement that I spent time with gave significant attention to their own prayer life. Though the personal practices varied, the commonality was that they were all people of prayer to an above-average degree. There was also power in their prayers; when they prayed for others, there was impact. In East Africa, where they’ve planted thousands of groups, an outside firm did a study to determine critical elements of their rapid reproduction. They discovered that over 70% of the groups started as a result of a healing, deliverance, dream, or vision.

5. Compassionate ministry to people in need is a priority

Care for people in need reveals the heart of God and helps people begin catch a glimpse of him. It has always been a Vineyard priority. As Chuck Van Engen, Professor at Fuller Seminary, said, “The best kept secret about the Vineyard is its commitment to the poor.” Pragmatically, many groups use serving the poor as an initial way to access a community, or as an entry point into ministry. Yet it’s more than that. Compassion and service to those in need is not just about gaining access—it’s an end in itself. It’s something Jesus called us to do, and reflects the heart of God for people. 

6. Everybody gets to play

Ministry is not just for the few, but for all of followers of Jesus. In the Vineyard Movement we have a long history of  “everybody gets to play” with people newly following Jesus ministering early in their journey. Because our philosophy of ministry is based on Ephesians 4:11-13, we assume that people in leadership positions take the role of equipping others to do ministry. But over time, more and more of us have pursued formal theological education and that level of training has evolved to become the assumed standard. The professionalization of ministry tends to cause pastors to do more and more of the work of the ministry themselves.

However, the strength of a movement lies in equipping all to do the work of the ministry. Each group I met with that had been successful in launching thousands of new churches has maintained a commitment to a lower threshold for entry into ministry, emphasizing calling and giftedness rather than education and experience. They have successfully avoided professionalization of the ministry and have created environments where truly “everybody gets to play.”

7. Simple reproducible groups

In the pre-Vineyard days of Calvary Chapel, the focus was on Bible study groups that required a good deal of training and experience to develop competent teachers. Then Wimber began kinship groups -which had more of a relational and spiritual emphasis, took less skill and training to facilitate, and thus were more easily reproducible. Every church multiplication leader I talked to had some simple model of reproducible groups that mirrored what we did in the early days of the Vineyard Movement.  I have been particularly fascinated by the powerful simplicity of Discovery Bible Study as one such model. It is easily reproducible and emphasizes helping people hear God for themselves and obey him.

8. Show tell model of training

Almost by definition, informal and non-formal modes of training tend to emphasize being and doing over knowing. In contrast, formal training tends to emphasize acquiring knowledge above obedience. Successful multiplication movements have simple, informal means of passing on learning from one generation of leadership to the next (a la II Timothy 2:2). What they learn they pass on to others, and everyone who teaches is expected to also be a student. In East Africa, they call this a “cascading system of training” in which there is a continual passing on of what you have learned to others who in turn share it with others. This delivery system lends itself to a praxis emphasis. As Wimber said, “Now go and try that.” We try, we debrief, we learn, and we go on to pass along those learnings experientially.

9. Key leaders who keep the missional vision alive

In each of the movements I studied there were key leaders who focused on keeping the vision alive. In describing the role of senior leadership in an organization like the Vineyard, Peter Drucker concludes, “And the people in the central organization must remind themselves all the time: We are the servants of the [local entity]…It is part of our job to make sure they have standards; but we are their servants. They do the work. We are not their bosses; we are their conscience.” That approach to the highest level of leadership was evident in every group I spoke with. In each case, senior leaders were freed from the weight of ongoing administrative responsibility and the nurturing support activities of caring for existing churches and pastors. Rather, they were able to focus on keeping the missional vision alive and in the forefront. They served as the conscience and the memory, ensuring things continued moving in productive directions. In some cases, these key leaders had no official role at all, but simply functioned to keep the vision clear and present.  

10. On an adventure with God in partnership with others

As I have prayerfully reflected on what the “glue” was that originally connected those of us in the Vineyard together and generated so much excitement, I have concluded that it was not the worship or the healing, though both were very important aspects of our experience. Rather I think it was that we were all on an adventure with God. God was on the move and we were invited to join in what God was doing. As Wimber observed it was often messy. Yet it was always exciting.

I felt that same excitement and messiness in each of the multiplication movements I visited. There was a palpable sense of adventure and newness, with a great deal of the work depending on the movement of the Holy Spirit. Everyone was learning and excited to share what they were learning. No one acted like an expert. They were all learners. It was almost like they were enjoying the playfulness of kindergarten again. In every case it was a journey of recognizing that God is active in the world and determining to join him in that. There was a sense of current-ness—now-ness: what is God doing now.  Each movement is on a dynamic adventure with God in a process of discovery, and they don’t know what’s around the next corner. 

Perhaps God has never stopped moving, but we have become more reticent to take the risky route of joining him on the journey.

Reflections

In the course of this research, I was surprised by the consistency with which all of these groups adhered to these same ten principles. I was also struck by the alignment of these principles with the Vineyard values. Possibly this alignment explains why we grew so dramatically at our inception.  And looking to the future, perhaps God’s call to plant thousands of churches is a return to what God did through us at the beginning-- but contextualized in new ways for a new day.